- Top of page
Forgiveness is a key concept in many governance and responsive regulation issues. The notion of intergroup forgiveness was examined among people from four countries: Angola, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, and East Timor. Nine hundred and eighty-five adults who had suffered from the many conflicts in their areas, either personally or through injuries inflicted on members of their family, agreed to participate in a study that was specifically about seeking intergroup forgiveness. In all four countries, most participants of the study agreed with the ideas that (i) seeking intergroup forgiveness makes sense; (ii) the seeking process must be a popular, democratic, and public process, not a secret elite negotiation; (iii) the process must be initiated and conducted by people in charge politically, not by dissident factions; and (iv) the process is aimed at reconciliation, not at humiliating the group requesting forgiveness. Differences between the four countries were found regarding the extent to which (i) international organizations may be involved in the process; (ii) the demand must include the former perpetrators; and (iii) emotions and material compensation are ingredients in the process.
- Top of page
During data collection, and as was also observed by Kadima Kadiangandu and Mullet (2007), the participants showed interest in the study and were usually willing to dedicate the time to answer carefully the many questions in the survey. A large majority of participants agreed that forgiveness as an intergroup process is feasible. Only about 12% of the participants thought that it was not possible for a group of people to ask another group of people for forgiveness. This basic result was robust with respect to age, gender, educational level, country of residence, and other individual differences. It was consistent with the results of the study by Kadima Kadiangandu and Mullet (2007). It was also consistent with the results of a study by Kadima Kadiangandu et al. (2007) that showed that the Congolese did not conceptualize forgiveness as a strictly dyadic process. In their view, forgiveness was extensible to people outside the offended–offender dyad (e.g. an institution, a state, a church, a dead person). It was also consistent with Shriver’s (1995, p. 177) view that African (Americans) have a cultural “predisposition toward, an ingrained gift for, injecting forgiveness into their political relations” with others. It was, finally, consistent with the concept of restorative diplomacy that was proposed by Braithwaite (2002, p. 170) who conceived it “as a process of healing the emotions of divided peoples.”
Participants appeared to have clear conceptions of what the process of asking for intergroup forgiveness could be. Asking for intergroup forgiveness was conceived above all as a popular, democratic process. Participants clearly agreed that public discussions and voting must take place before any concrete actions by politicians and that the people who would speak on behalf of the whole group must be representative of the group (e.g. the Head of State, a respected person). This is consistent with the findings in the study by Kadima Kadiangandu and Mullet (2007). This is also consistent with Tavuchis’ view that an apology “from the Many to the Many” (1991, p. 98) can only be voiced by an authoritative deputy, a person truly representing the group (see also Digeser 2001). This is consistent with Braithwaite’s (2002) views that elite diplomacy is inadequate for securing a lasting peace: “Peacemaking must be democratized; it must heal whole peoples, preparing the soil of popular sentiments for peace and democracy” (p. 185). In addition, that a third party (an influential member of the UN) may also be considered as a person who can acceptably speak in the name of the requesting group is consistent with Braithwaite’s analyses (2002, p. 175), showing that, in some circumstances, third parties were crucial in setting the stage for many instances of dispute resolution.
Participants were willing to acknowledge that persons in charge politically (a political party, the Head of State) may initiate the process of asking for forgiveness. Participants conceived of intergroup forgiveness as a collective and global process but, interestingly, tended to exclude from the requesting process the very persons who are responsible for the atrocities. This is reminiscent of Hayner’s views (2002, p. 206; see also Shraga 2005) about the possible complementarity of restorative means such as truth commissions, and more classical, retributive means such as national or international tribunals for achieving a peaceful transition in post-conflict societies. This is in complete agreement with Braithwaite’s theoretical suggestions involved in his regulatory pyramid (2002, p. 32): “criminalization provides a new peak to the enforcement pyramid against war crimes” (p. 202).
Participants agreed that asking for forgiveness should occur not too long after the events. This makes perfect sense: the quicker the intergroup reconciliation, the better for everybody. They were, however, aware that this view is not always realistic and that the process may also acceptably be initiated much later after the atrocities. In effect, asking for forgiveness being conceived as a democratic process, such a process usually takes time. This has been well illustrated with what 20th-century history has taught us: it took 25 years for a German chancellor publicly to express repentance for the Holocaust and 45 years for a Japanese prime minister to apologize for certain crimes committed during World War II. Before initiating the forgiving process, “victims and transgressors must agree on a history of what has happened” (Digeser 1998, p. 707), and this can take a long time.
Asking for intergroup forgiveness was conceived in essence as a public process. Participants clearly agreed that the process has to take place inside the symbolic places of the group that is requested to forgive (ideally, the governmental palace) or of the group that requests forgiveness (e.g. a sacred place) and that the language used should be a language with a broad international diffusion rather than the language of the group that is requested to forgive. This is consistent with Tavuchis’ conception of intergroup apologies. They must be “quintessentially public,” not the private opinions of the deputies; they are a matter for public record. They should be “addressed to a wider audience as much as it is to the offended party” in order that the forgiveness process also “speaks to interested third parties” (Tavuchis 1991, p. 101; see also Digeser 2001). This was also consistent with the decision made by Japanese Prime Minister Miyazawa to present before the Korean National Assembly his sincere apologies for Japan’s treatment of the Korean people before and during World War II. This is, finally, consistent with Braithwaite’s views that secret mediation among the elite is no longer a viable perspective for solving modern disputes: “Peacemaking is needed on the ground, among the ordinary people (2002, p. 187).”
Asking intergroup forgiveness was conceived as implying the expression of particular sentiments or emotions from the people who ask for forgiveness (e.g. contrition, remorse, repentance). It was also conceived as implying concrete behaviors attesting to the sincerity of the demand (e.g. a gift of money, punishment of the persons responsible for the atrocities). This is not consistent with Tavuchis’ assertion (1991, p. 100) that the status of the involved parties “entails a stylized approach to language and way of speaking that allows little room for the kind of spontaneity, flexibility, or improvisations found in ordinary speech.” This is, however, consistent with what has been observed in concrete situations. When, in 1970, Chancellor Brandt kneeled before the city’s memorial to the Warsaw ghetto uprising of 1943, he behaviorally, if not verbally, expressed deep emotions. In 1992, in his speech to the Korean National Assembly during the first visit to Korea of a Japanese Prime Minister, Kiichi Miyazawa said: “I cannot help feeling acutely distressed over this [about 100 000 Korean women were sexually exploited for the comfort of Japanese soldiers], and I present my sincere apology… I am determined to nurture in the Japanese people, especially our youth, the courage to face squarely the past facts, understanding for the feelings of the victims, and a sense of admonition that these deeds should never be repeated” (International Herald Tribune, 20 January 1992). More generally, and for psychological reasons, it is difficult to imagine that a political leader who is intimately convinced that his or her nation committed atrocities against another nation and is determined to publicly seek forgiveness for the atrocities should be perfectly able to repress the intense emotion he or she may feel at the very moment of presenting his or her request. In a certain way, expressing too much detachment when publicly seeking forgiveness would run the risk of being interpreted as a basic lack of empathy for the suffering of the victims or as mere reluctance for seeking forgiveness. Overall, this view is consistent with basic principles in restorative justice where the experience and expression of emotions play a crucial role in the process of dispute resolution (Braithwaite 2002; see also Harris et al. 2004).
The participants of our study saw the essential aim of requesting forgiveness as promoting reconciliation between the two groups, in accordance with Digeser’s (2001) views. They clearly agreed that concessions should be made, if needed, to facilitate the process. In addition, they agreed that both parties should make plans for living in a more interdependent fashion. This finding is consistent with the findings in Kadima Kadiangandu and Mullet (2007). It is also consistent with Tavuchis’ idea that asking for forgiveness should be a prelude to reconciliation between the groups, with Thomas and Garrod’s (2002) findings that young Bosnians who were severely hurt during the war essentially want to achieve reconciliation with Serbs and Croats, and, more generally, with Braithwaite’s (2002, p. 185) views that “most people fundamentally want peace, prosperity, and freedom more than they want revenge.” The process of asking for intergroup forgiveness was, however, seen as distinct from the initiation of a commercial agreement, or a military treaty.
Several differences between the four groups considered in the present study emerged. More than the other groups in the study, the Angolans conceived the process as an holistic process, a process that involved all the members of the requesting group: the ones who were directly responsible for the atrocities as well as the others, and the ones who wished to seek forgiveness as well as the ones who were reluctant. They did not consider as appropriate the perspective of a new alliance or a new kind of cooperation. The Angolan views were, in this respect, closer to those that were expressed by the Congolese in the study by Kadima Kadiangandu and Mullet (2007). This may be explained by geographical as well as cultural proximity between Kasaï (the province in Congo where the survey was conducted) and Angola. This may also be explained by similarities in political contexts. In Angola in particular, the two factions that fought for 25 years have now signed an agreement that provides for the complete integration of the militias in the army and the complete integration of the opponents in political life.
More than the other groups in the study, the Mozambicans conceived the process as a broad, international process. This probably reflects the way that Mozambican factions reached agreement (the Rome General Peace Accords) after 25 years of bloody conflict; that is, only through the effective mediation of the Community of Sant’Egidio with the support of the UN. Also, this accords well with the fact that Mozambique decided to join the Commonwealth of Nations, becoming the only member that was never part of the old British Empire. The Mozambican government and its people have apparently understood that the more the nations become regionally interdependent, the less they risk resorting to violence as a way to solve internal or interstate disputes (Braithwaite 2002, p. 169).
More than the other groups in the study, the East Timorese agreed with the idea that the request should be accompanied with commercial offers, proposals for new kinds of collaboration, and acts of reparation for the harm done. This reflects the fact that the future of this country is largely dependent on the attitude of its powerful neighbor: Indonesia. East Timor is the poorest country of the world: Indonesian assistance and collaboration is, logically, conceived as vital.
Finally, differences were found between the results of the present study and the results of the study conducted in Congo (Kadima Kadiangandu & Mullet 2007). One of the differences was regarding the role of the world institutions (the UN) in the seeking forgiveness process. In the present study, this role was considered as important in the four groups (and extremely important among the Mozambicans), which contrasted with the views expressed by the Congolese. This may be explained by the fact that the respondents in the study by Kadima Kadiangandu and Mullet (2007) may have considered that the international community did not do much about stopping the violence and assisting the refugees (Kakonde Luteke 1997). As a result, these respondents tended to believe that their fate was in their hands, with only the assistance of some non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Also, the Congolese, more than the groups considered in the present study (except the East Timorese), agreed with the idea that the request should be expressed in many points in the territory. This possibly reflects the fact that in many parts of Kasaï, the national and international media are not available. For both sets of reasons, the participants may have expressed viewpoints that are strongly anchored in their daily, local reality.
The second difference was regarding the role of traditional authorities. In the present study, this role was considered as possibly important in the four groups (but never extremely important), which contrasted somewhat with the views expressed by the Congolese. Other groups do not, to the same extent as seems to be the case in Kasaï, share a defiant attitude toward traditional authorities.
The third difference was regarding the expression of repentance and contrition from the group seeking forgiveness. In the present study, expression of repentance and concrete behaviors that contribute to give credence to these expressions (e.g. punishment of the responsible perpetrators) were uniformly considered as important in the four groups, which strongly contrasted with the views expressed by the Congolese. This may be explained by the fact that the very persons (President Mobutu and the Governor of Shaba) who were at the origin of the troubles in this part of Congo were dead or had disappeared. Future study would, however, be needed for better understanding this contrast in responses.
In summary, in the five groups that have been studied to date (Angola, Congo, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, and East Timor), most participants agreed with the ideas that (i) seeking intergroup forgiveness makes sense; (ii) the seeking process must be a popular, democratic, and public process, not a secret elite negotiation; (iii) the process must be initiated and conducted by people in charge politically, not by dissident factions; and (iv) the process is aimed at reconciliation, not at humiliating the requesting group. Differences between groups exist regarding the extent to which (i) international organizations may be involved in the process; (ii) the demand must include the former perpetrators; and (iii) emotions and material compensation are essential ingredients in the process.
Limitations of the study
The present study was conducted on only three African samples and one Asiatic sample. Although the observed results form a clear and understandable pattern, replicating findings from a previous study, the extent to which these results can be extended to other people from other regions (e.g. Latin America, Tibet) who have suffered from civil wars or wars with their neighbors is still largely uncertain. In addition, for practical reasons, participants were, disproportionately, educated volunteers, many of whom were contacted through other participants in the research. Although special efforts were made to contact people from different geographic areas and from different educational levels, we are unsure about the representativeness of the overall sample. It is, however, reassuring that no difference between genders or as a function of age and education was found.
In addition, again for practical reasons, some aspects of the process of asking for intergroup forgiveness were not examined, notably the concrete contents of the messages requesting forgiveness. Should the request detail all or part of the offenses committed by the requesting group (as in von Weizsäcker’s 1985 address to the Bundestag; New York Times, 12 May 1985)? Should it also refer to the possible offenses committed by the other group (as recommended by Shriver 1995)?
Finally, further research is also needed on the process of requesting forgiveness in those complex situations in which the perpetrator and victim roles are not clearly separated, that is, in situations in which the same people have been, in various proportions, both victims and perpetrators.